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A Shared Goal
Michael Farber
May 26, 1997
Against the odds, the Flyers are out to win the Stanley Cup with the netminding-by committee of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow
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May 26, 1997

A Shared Goal

Against the odds, the Flyers are out to win the Stanley Cup with the netminding-by committee of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow

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Snow and Hextall, in fact, are almost one goalie. They are both big (Snow is 6'3" and 200 pounds, Hextall 6'3" and 192) and combative. They play well when they hold their ground and let pucks hit them, and they fare poorly when they take themselves out of position with their aggressiveness. Hextall handles his stick better and helps the penalty-killing unit by clearing pucks from the zone, but Snow makes fewer egregious mistakes. The only major difference between them, Murray observed during his merry week of guess-the-goalie, is that Snow fights a little more, "but only because he's younger." Indeed, Snow slugged it out with Buffalo netminder Steve Shields in Game 1 of their series, thereby getting the hat trick for having fought all three Sabres goalies in the past two years.

There was one theory that Shields got involved in that set-to simply to see if it was really Snow under all that equipment. For the past month Snow's shoulder pads have became the most hotly discussed undergarments since Madonna's. Not that goalies don't look for an edge—the Flyers mumble that Manhattan studio apartments are smaller pads than the ones Richter straps on his legs—but Snow looks as if he has the Poconos on his collarbones. An NHL official examined Snow's Heaton shoulder pads early in the Buffalo series and found the purported falsies just fine. (There are no specific regulations regarding the size of shoulder pads in the NHL rule book.) "Look, I know what the shoulder pads do," says Snow. "As a goalie, if you believe you're taking up most of the net, it means you have to move less. You rely less on quickness and more on position."

But then, Snow is remarkably quick, at least verbally. When Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Snow looked as if he were wearing two-by-fours under his jersey, Snow said the bulges actually were shingles he had gotten from Snow's Supplies, his father Don's roofing and windows firm in Foxboro, Mass. "Try to get that in the article," Snow said. "Maybe it'll be good for business."

Snow knows all about giving people the business—he's the Flyers' locker room wit. After the U.S. beat Canada last September in hockey's World Cup, he told Clarke, a key international player for Canada in the 1970s, "Well, Clarkie, at least [your country] still has curling." When mad cow disease broke out in Britain last year, the shafts of some Flyers sticks started mysteriously turning up with bovine spots, and while all evidence pointed to Snow, he steadfastly denied the allegations. Hextall contends that the cockroach found doing the dead man's crawl in his coffee earlier this season was the work of Snow, who concedes, "I'm not saying I did that, but I think I know the guy who did. I'm researching that one right now." He pauses and then adds, "Just tell people I didn't murder the cockroach. You know, animal rights."

The goalies' freewheeling relationship has allowed Murray his little intrigues and kept the locker room from splintering into Hextall and Snow camps. Hextall gave Snow a nickname, Sea Bass, after the character in Dumb and Dumber. Snow gave Hextall a nasty insect. The pair is as rare as the abominable snowmen painted on Snow's mask: goalies who are close friends.

But if Philadelphia is going to win its first Stanley Cup since the Broad Street Bullies prevailed in 1975, odds are that Hextall or Snow will have to raise his play from acceptable to something more, to, in the language of the craft, stand on his head and steal a game. Snow demurs. "I don't think any player has ever won a game by himself," he says. "This is still a team sport. It's not golf. Goalies have to make big saves at the right time. Maybe one player plays a little above his head to help the team win, but I wouldn't say 'steal a game.' "

Hextall was superb in relief in Game 2, stopping Esa Tikkanen 75 seconds after entering the match and making 11 more saves. His performance earned him the transferable title of hot Flyers goalie, and Murray announced that Hextall would start in New York in Game 3. Hextall and Philadelphia swept the Rangers in the second round in 1995, but fans in Madison Square Garden prefer to recall the 16 goals Hextall yielded in three playoff games the previous spring, when he was with the New York Islanders. Hextall shrugs his shoulders. The only thing that matters, he insists, is the next shot.

So even though the team with the best goaltending often wins the Stanley Cup, the Flyers are optimistic that their 20 players can beat your 20. Could be. With its blot-out-the-sun size, four lines and Lindros, Philadelphia has a chance—barring any more outright net disasters, of course. Party on, Ron. You, too, Garth.

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